HL Deb 19 July 1962 vol 242 cc848-58

7.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is now a very small one, comprising only thirteen short clauses. As originally deposited, it contained a number of other somewhat more contentious provisions which have not, however, proceeded beyond another place. The Bill now under consideration deals only with a few administrative matters necessary for the better working of certain of the Corporation's functions.

Clauses 1 and 2 are by way of definition. By Clause 3 the Corporation seek power to borrow for purposes of Billingsgate Market. Under the City of London (Various Powers) Acts of 1937 and 1958 the Corporation obtained powers to raise sums of money for the purpose of certain works connected with the market. Those works were carried out, but the amount of money which was authorised to be borrowed was not fully spent. Now it is necessary for further works to be done, and the object of this clause is that authority should be given for these works to be carried out with the money which has previously been authorised. Opportunity is also taken to consolidate in this clause the borrowing powers.

Clause 4 provides for the amendment of Section 17 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1961, in its application to the City. This section authorises rating authorities to refund in certain cases rates overpaid. One of these cases is where the hereditament is unoccupied during the period. When the Bill for the Act of 1961 was before Parliament the Corporation drew the attention of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to this problem, and indicated that in the City, because of the very great number of office premises, it often happened that hereditaments were divided up during a rating period, and that the owner or occupier, whoever was responsible for the payment of the rates, sometimes overpaid because, by mistake, he did not apply to have the premises re-rated. The point was made, therefore, that it would be desirable that Section 17 should be extended to enable the rating authority to make a refund where premises were partly unoccupied. Because the Ministry took the view that it was not a general problem but one of local application to the City only, it was thought that the Corporation should deal with the matter in a local enactment, and the clause has been agreed with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It should be noted that before a refund can be made a certificate must be obtained from the valuation officer as to the manner in which the hereditament would have been treated if a proposal for alteration in the valuation list had occurred in the normal way, and that the certificate would be binding on the rating authority.

Clause 5 relates to the acquisition and preservation et cetera of documents, and, I think, can conveniently be taken with Clauses 6 and 7 and also Clause 8, which is the interpretation of these clauses. By Clause 8 references to the Corporation in Clauses 5, 6 and 7 are to be construed as references to the Corporation in their capacity as a local authority. As your Lordships know, the Corporation have various capacities, one being a local authority, another as an ancient municipality and another as trustees of the Bridge House Estates. As an ancient municipality the Corporation already have powers to do everything provided in these clauses, but the money must come from their own resources. But a number of recent Acts have been promoted by other local authorities where similar powers have been conferred to expend rate monies for this purpose, and the intention of these clauses is to enable the Corporation to expend rate monies for this purpose.

Clause 7, enabling the Corporation, by agreement, to acquire any land of historical or architectural interest, and to pay contributions towards preserving such land, is a re-statement of a power contained in Section 15 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act, 1954. But as there is some doubt as to whether rate monies can be expended under that power it has been thought desirable to include it in its present form in this Bill; and it is proposed in Clause 11 to repeal the existing provision.

Clause 9, "Power to transfer lands to Bridge House Estates," relates to the Corporation as Trustees for the Bridge House Estates. In that capacity, the Corporation maintain four London bridges, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Black-friars Bridge and Southwark Bridge, and in that capacity they also own various lands and estates, the surplus requirements of which are devoted to the maintenance and improvement of the bridges. The Corporation at the present time are promoting a Bill for the improvement of London Bridge, and because there are certain lands owned by the Corporation, other than as Trustees for the Bridge House Estates, which are required for the purpose of the works authorised by that Bill, this clause is included to provide a convenient means for the transfer of land which they own in one capacity to land which they own in another capacity. The sole object of the clause is to provide for a fair valuation of the beneficial interests involved.

The remaining clauses I think need no explanation from me, although, of course, if your Lordships wish it, I shall be very glad to give it. As I have said, this is a small Bill which is unopposed, and I do not think that it could in any way be regarded as contentious. It is, however, of great importance to the City Corporation, in order that the Corporation may continue to carry out the services which they provide for the public in general. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ebbisham.)

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, the City of London (Various Powers) Bill usually goes through without much trouble but I think it is a good thing for the City that it should have a bit of trouble now and again. I have a great respect for the ancient history of the City of London, and I do not forget that it was one of the champions of Parliament against absolute Monarchy, and that there is a picture in the House of Commons of five Members gating into a boat. They went to the City of London and were safe from Royal wrath. Therefore I do not approach the City of London with any cynical view about its past. I have a little cynicism, however, about its present. Those days are gone. It now says that it has no politics. I suppose it has not because it does not need to. It is a sort of totalitarian State with only one Party on the Common Council, but I think it needs looking at now and again because it has become narrow, with an "iron curtain" around its square mile. It does not take an interest in the rest of London and is totally indifferent to the proposed threat to kill the London County Council, which I think is very bad and in conflict with the past civic fight of the City for local government rights. I think it is legitimate to ask some questions about the provisions of the Bill which is now before the House and I am much obliged to the noble Lord for the exposition he has given on it.

The first clause on which I should like to ask some questions is Clause 3, giving power to borrow for the purposes of Billingsgate Market. Billingsgate Market is itself a subject of controversy. Some of us think that it ought to be abolished and put somewhere else, or that there should be a group of per- haps four mixed markets on the edge of the County of London, which would save a lot of traffic congestion. This proposal the Government have so far rejected; but what I am asking is: Is it wise to give the City additional borrowing powers in the case of a market which is widely recognised to be a nuisance from the traffic point of view? And could not this additional borrowing power for this reason be postponed, in view of the fact that the future of the market may be somewhat uncertain?

I come then to Clause 4. This seems to me a constitutional novelty in that it is an amendment to a Public General Act. I should have thought it was a little questionable for an individual local authority to come to Parliament for power to amend a Public General Act. I should have thought that, if such an Act were to be amended, it would be for the Government of the day to bring in appropriate amending legislation. I am open to correction on this—I may be wrong—but it seems to me rather strange and a new thing to happen, and to establish a precedent. Personally, I do not think that empty property should go free of rates. I think a 25 per cent, levy of rates in the case of empty property would be legitimate, because the Corporation of London, the London County Council, and the police have to provide services for property, even if it is empty. Obviously, the police must keep an eye on it, in order to protect it, and there must be other services—for example, drainage and so on; otherwise the property would not be lettable to a prospective tenant or saleable to a prospective purchaser. I do not like this provision that the class of empty property should be totally exempt from rates. I think it is unjust to the other ratepayers both of the City and of the London County Council, and, for that matter, to the Metropolitan Police rates.

Clause 6 surprises me a little. I should have thought the Corporation already had Dowers to subscribe to such societies which have association or connections with the City of London and to pay the expenses of persons who attend their meetings. My impression is that many local authorities already do this, and I should have thought it was a lawful expense without special powers being given in the case of the City of London. It may be that the other local authorities, in incurring or proposing to incur expenses of which the legal validity may be doubtful, can go to the Minister of Housing and Local Government and ask for expenditure in specific cases. If that is so, I should have thought the Corporation of London could do it without coming to Parliament for these rather wide powers intended especially for application to the square mile of the City of London.

My Lords, Clause 10, mystifies me a little. I cannot see where the sense would be whereby a judge of a court or a justice should be disqualified from acting in the execution of any enactment relating to the Corporation by reason of liability to any rates. But if that is the general law, in order to protect the possibility of the bench being biased in favour of the local authority, I should have thought there was no particular case for its repeal in the City of London. Therefore, I should like to know why this special provision is brought in in the case of the City of London. If the general law operates in the way this clause proposes to repeal, I should have thought there was a case for the amendment of the general law.

Clause 11, my Lords, deals with repeals. The first of the three that I am not dear about is the repeal of Section 27 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act, 1937—the power to borrow. There is no explanation given, unless it be the case that in this Bill new powers are taken which make the earlier power of the Act of 1937 unnecessary. Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to give us an explanation of that. Then it is proposed to repeal Section 15 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act, 1954—namely "Acquisition of buildings, &c, of historical or architectural interest". That strikes me as a little curious, unless the Corporation have powers in other respects. Section 13 of the Act of 1958, which gives additional power to borrow for the purposes of Billingsgate Market, is also repealed. My comments here would be much the same as they were on the earlier clause. It may be, of course, that the new provision in that earlier clause about Billingsgate Market takes the place of this.

Those are the points I wanted to mention, my Lords, and I shall be glad to have such explanation as can be given. I would congratulate the noble Lord on his speech in moving the Bill. If my memory serves me rightly, I was associated with his ancestor When he was Lord Mayor in the City, and he was always kind to me. I notice that we are to have some observations from the new Minister of State at the Home Office, who has always been very kind and courteous, even when I have not. I should like to congratulate him on his promotion and I hope he enjoys himself in my old Department, which is one of the most worthy Departments in the British Government and, unlike Continental Ministries of the Interior elsewhere, one of the greatest guarantees of civil liberty in our country. That remark is completely out of order, because it has nothing to do with the City of London, but I thought I might be permitted to say so, and I am much obliged to your Lordships for your courtesy.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, might I first of all support what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said about Lord Jellicoe's promotion and I would sincerely like to add my congratulations. In as short a sentence as possible I should like to tell the noble Lord that most of the matters he raised are precisely the points that will be examined by my noble friend Lord Merthyr and his counsel in the Committee. I do not think there is anything more to say about that, but those points will be gone into.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ebbisham, has, I 'think, explained the purpose of this Private Bill with luminous lucidity. I feel rather coy, if I may say so, following him on these recondite City matters, since it was only about a week or so ago that I was received as a "new boy" into the Mercers' Company and one of the grave, gowned figures to whom I made my bow was my noble friend. In my brief comments on this Bill I will try to avoid teaching my grandmother in the City how to suck eggs. May I also, by way of preface to these brief words, very sincerely thank the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for those kind words about me personally, and could I just add that as a "new boy" in his old Department I am sure that the officials of that Department will read with gratitude what he said about it?

Clearly, this being a Private Bill, and I myself being a "new boy" as a Freeman of the City of London, I think it would be wrong and unnecessary for me to traverse in any detail the ground already covered by my noble friend Lord Ebbisham. Indeed, since this is a Private Bill, and truly a Private Bill, it would probably be quite inappropriate for me to do so, even in this packed House and in the electric atmosphere of this evening.

Perhaps I could just mention one or two of the clauses to which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has referred. On Clause 3, the power to borrow for purposes of Billingsgate Market, I would say that Government-wise we see no objection to this particular clause and in fact the Ministry of Agriculture, whom it particularly concerns, support the improvements which are at present being carried out there. I will mention Clause 4 at somewhat greater length. On Clause 10 to which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, referred, about the non-disqualification of judges, I must with some diffidence confess that this is in fact a matter which concerns the Home Office, and I would assure the noble Lord that the Home Office, in that infinite wisdom to which he has referred, see no objection to it.

Perhaps I should say just a word more about Clause 4, since my noble friend Lord Ebbisham mentioned that that particular clause had been discussed with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I do so with greater pleasure since the blessed word "hereditament" dropped from his lips in explaining it, and I have always thought it was one of the jollier words in the English language. I can confirm that this clause was in fact discussed with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and that my right honourable friend the Minister supports the purpose behind it.


My Lords, was this when the noble Earl was at the Ministry?


It was in fact when I was there.


May I congratulate the noble Lord on having got out of that dreadful Department?


I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in the pursuit of that particular red herring. I would confirm that this clause was discussed with the Minds-try, and of course it was drafted with an eye to the rating problems of office premises in the City of London. This is clearly a matter which particularly concerns the City, given the concentration of offices there, and it is of importance to those who work there. That is why it was not included in the more general Rating and Valuation Act which Parliament approved last year. I do not think that there is anything unusual or unconstitutional in the proposal to amend, in respect of the City, Section 17 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1961, as is suggested here.

However, I take the point that it may not only be the City of London which has this particular problem, and I have also listened with interest to the observations of the noble Lord on the general matter of the rating of unoccupied office premises. As he well knows, Rating and Valuation Acts come and go pretty regularly, and if the object of this particular clause in this Private Bill is of more general application, and if the criticisms of it which the noble Lord has expressed are valid, that can be taken care of in a future Rating and Valuation Act. I will make a point of drawing these observations to the attention of the Ministry for which he has such a particular fondness. I think those are the only clauses on which Government-wise I would wish to comment.

More generally, I would remind your Lordships' House that it is your usual practice to grant a Private Bill a Second Reading, and I have no hesitation in recommending that on this occasion you should follow your usual practice.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all thank my noble friend for giving the approval of Her Majesty's Government to this Bill. I think it is a very happy coincidence that we should be associated so soon after we have had other ceremonies taking place dm a rather different atmosphere. May I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for his very kind references to my farther? The noble Lord has, I suppose, a longer and wider experience of local government than possibly anybody else in your Lordships' House. My memory goes back some 35 years to the time When my father was at the Mansion House, and I can remember the noble Lord coming there on a (number of occasions. I can also remember that he was gallant enough to dance with my sisters on a number of occasions—and they tell me that he was an extremely lively partner. It is, I think, a very happy thing that the noble Lord still retains that liveliness, which is such an asset and adds so much to the proceedings of your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord is not, perhaps, and never has been, a very great friend of the City, and it is perhaps only to be expected that I should take issue with him on one or two things which he said with regard to the City. He called the City narrow, and he also accused it of having no interest in the rest of London. I do not want to take up a lot of time, but I would remind the noble Lord that the City Corporation have over the years been, I should have said, the very opposite of this. Sixty or seventy years ago the Corporation had an eye to the future, towards open spaces for example. They purchased Burnham Beeches, they purchased Epping Forest; they purchased a number of other sites. I should have thought that was more far-seeing certainly than any local authority at that time, and a great many since. So that surely it could not be said from that point of view that they were narrow or had no interest in the rest of London. Shortly before the war the Corporation tried to start an airport of its own. That again, surely, was far-seeing. It was no fault of the Corporation that the site which they chose at Dagenham was not eventually chosen for the subsidiary London airport. So I do not think it can be truly said that those accusations which the noble Lord has made against the City can really be substantiated.

The noble Lord has asked some questions about various clauses. On Clause 3, is it wise to give borrowing powers to a market which is in a rather awkward place? The Corporation have given a lot of thought to this. They have tried to find all sorts of other sites and nothing better has been discovered. Therefore, it is surely in the interests of Billingsgate Market, and of traders as well, that the existing Market should be improved as much as possible. On Clause 4 the noble Lord asked about rating. I think that my noble friend has covered that matter in his reply. The noble Lord talked about the question of whether it was proper that empty property should not bear the cost of the rates. I agree with the noble Lord that that is certainly an arguable point. But as conditions stand at present it is possible to be relieved of rates on empty property. Therefore surely in this instance the Corporation should be allowed to have what other people also have.

Then, on Clause 10, there was the question about the judges. I should have thought that that was common form. The clause provides that judges or justices should not be disqualified from the exercise of any jurisdiction under any enactment relating to the Corporation by reason of liability to any rate. This is a usual form. I understand, which is put in a great many Acts, and the Corporation have found it necessary to include it in a number of Acts of their own in recent years where they are acquiring, or seeking power to acquire, land, or constructing buildings. It was thought that it would be convenient to include a general clause of this nature in this Bill, rather than include it in Acts every time they came forward. In fact, I would remind the noble Lord that (I believe) the London County Council put a clause to this effect in all their Bills as well. Clause 11 has to do with the repeal of various enactments. Three sections of the City of London Sewers Act, 1848, dealing with the collection of rates by collectors are now out of date, and so far as the other items on that list are concerned these are consequent upon the provision of the clauses already referred to. I hope that these answers will satisfy the noble Lord; and, without further delay, I commend this Bill to your Lordships.

On Question. Bill read 2a, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.